For Pride month, we’ve dedicated each day of June to an individual athlete or coach whose shining moment changed LGBTQ sports.
Today: CeCé Telfer and the track meet of May 25, 2019. That’s the day the Franklin Pierce University hurdler made NCAA history by becoming the first transgender student-athlete competing in the gender in which they identify to win an individual NCAA track and field championship.
It was a balmy spring night at Javelina Stadium on the campus of Texas A&M-Kingsville, Saturday, May 25, 2019. Eight athletes settled into the blocks for the NCAA Division II women’s 400-meter hurdles final.
More than a few eyes were on Lane 4. CeCé Telfer, a senior from Franklin Pierce, would take her marks for her final race as a collegian. Many heard the “tales” and the hearsay about her. The endless blog posts, tweets, and vitriol that often attack transgender women athletes. Some of that vitriol came from the eldest son of the president.
What is often missed is the human story of an athlete fighting opponents and her own body and mind. It was a lifelong fight with dysphoria that was so intense that Telfer left the team and gave up the sport she loved in early 2018.
“We can’t imagine what sort of torture she was feeling on the inside when she already had made this transition for years,” FPU head track and field coach Zach Emerson recalls. “Maybe not physically or medically, but mentally. She felt like she was living a lie competing with men.”
Over the summer of 2018, she learned that there was a pathway to competing authentically. With the support of her school it was determined that she met the NCAA’s threshold to be eligible. That fall she was back on the Franklin Pierce track and field team and vowed to see the senior season to the end.
Through early disappointment on the track, transphobia off of it, and with the support of her team, she saw a number of happy endings in the Outdoor season. In the final month of the season, she was named Most Outstanding Athlete at the Northeast-10 Championships to go with three gold medals.
There was the greatest ending on that night in Texas. Telfer exploded from the gun and turned that national final into a resounding rout. She raced away to a win in 57.53 seconds, more than nearly 2 seconds ahead of the next competitor.
What made the triumph even greater was that the demanding 400 hurdles was still a new event for her. This season was her first season contesting it, but to her taking on such a challenge was important.
“It’s something I’m willing to do to prove to the world that trans athletes and transgender individuals matter,” she stated.
We’ll share another Moment of Pride tomorrow and every day throughout Pride Month.